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One evening, when some of Dr. Kenrick's works were mentioned, Goldsmith said he had never heard of them ; upon which Dr. Johnson observed, “Sir, he is one of the many who have made themselves public, without making themselves known.”
Of Guthrie, he said, “Sir, he is a man of parts. He has no great regular fund of kuowledge; but, by reading so long, and writing so long, he no doubt has picked up a good deal.” · He praised Signor Baretti. “ His account of Italy is a very entertaining book; and, sir, I know no man who carries his head higher in conversation than Baretti. There are strong powers in his mind, He has not, indeed, many hooks; but with what hooks he has, he grapples very forcibly.”
Lord Lyttelton's Dialogues he deemed a nugatory performance. " That man,” said he, “ sat down to write a book, to tell the world what the world had all his life been telling him.”
Speaking of Boethius, who was the favourite writer of the middle ages, he said it was very surprising, “ that upon such a subject, and in such a situation, he should be magis philosophus quam Christianus."
Of the late Mr. Mallet he spoke with no great respect; said, he was ready for any dirty job; that he had written against Byng at the instigation of the ministry, and was equally ready to write for him, provided he found his account in it.
Of Dr. Kennicott's Collations, he observed, that, though the text should not be much mended thereby, yet it was no small advantage to know that we had as good a text as the most consummate industry and diligence could procure,
Speaking of the old earl of Cork and Orrery, he said, “ that man-spent his life in catching at an object [literary eminence], which he had not power to grasp."
Of Burke he said, “ It was commonly observed, he spoke too often in parliament; but nobody could say he did not speak well, though too frequently, and too familiarly."
Talking of Tacitus, Boswell hazarded an opinion, that with all his merit for penetration, shrewdness of judgment, and terseness of expression, he was too.compact, too much broken into hints, as it were, and therefore too difficult to be understood. Dr. Johnson sanctioned this opinion. “ Tacitus, sir, seems to me rather to have made notes for an historical work, than to have written a history." *
He said, so Burnet's History of his own Times is very entertaining : the style, indeed, is mere chitchat. I do not believe that Burnet intentionally lied; but he was so much prejudiced, that he took no pains to find out the truth. He was like a man who resolves to regulate his time by a certain watch, but will not inquire, whether the watch is right or not.”
Goldsmith being mentioned-JOHNSON. “ It is amazing how little Goldsmith knows : he seldom comes where he is not more ignorant than any one else." SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. Yet, there is no man whose company is more liked.” JOHNSON. “ To be sure, sir, when people find a man of the
• Lord Monboddo, whom, on account of his resembling Dr. Johnson in some particulars, Foote called an Elzeyir edition of him, has made the same remark.
most distinguished abilities as a writer, their inferior while he is with them, it must be highly gratifying to them. What Goldsmith comically says of himself, is very true he always gets the better when he argues alone; meaning, that he is master of a subject in his study, and can write well upon it ; but when he comesinto company,he grows confused,and unable to talk. Take him as a poet, his Traveller is a very fine performance; ay, and so is his Deserted Village, were it not sometimes too much the echo of bis Traveller. Whether, indeed, we take him as a poet, as a comic writer, or as an historian-he stands in the first class." BOSWELL. “ An historian ! my dear sir, you will surely not rank his compilation of the Roman history with the works of other historians of this age ?" JOHNSON.“ Why, who are before him?" BOSWELL. Hume, Robertson,Lord Lyttelton." JOHNSON. (His antipathy to the Scotch beginning to rise.) I have not read Hume; but, doubtless, Goldsmith's History is better than the verbiage of Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrymple.” BOSWELL. “ Will you not admit the superiority of Robertson, in whose his. tory we find such penetration-such painting?" JOHNSON. “ Sir, you must consider how that penetration and that painting are employed; it is not history, it is imagination. He who describes what he never saw, draws from fancy. Robertson paints minds, as-sir Joshua paints faces in a history piece; he imagines an heroic countenance. You must look upon Robertson's work as romance, and try it by that standard: history it is not. Besides, sir, it is the great excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as his book will hold. Goldsmith has
done this in his History. Now, Robertson might have put twice as much into his book. Robertson is like a man who has packed gold in wool; the wool takes up more room than the gold. No, sir; I always thought Robertson would be crushed by his own weight-would be buried under his own ornaments. Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want to know: Robertson detains you a deal too long. No man will read Robertson's cumbrous detail a second time; but Goldsmith's plain narrative will please again and again. I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of bis pupils : ' Read over your compositions; and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out. Goldsmith's abridgement is better than that of Lucius Florus, or Eutropius ; and I will venture to say, that if you compare him with Vertot, in the same places of the Roman History, you will find that he excels Vertot. Sir, he has the art of coin piling, and of saying every thing he has to say in a pleasing manner. He is now writing a Natural History, and will make it as entertaining as a Persian Tale.”
Boswell adds, “ I cannot dismiss the present topic without observing, that it is probable that Dr. Johnson, who owned that he often' talked for vic. tory,' rather urged plausible objections to Dr. Robertson's excellent historical works, in the ardour of contest, than expressed his real and decided opinion ; for it is not easy to suppose, that he should so widely differ from the rest of the literary world."
Johnson praised John Bunyan highly. His Pil. grim's Progress has great merit both for invention,
imagination, and the conduct of the story; and it bas had the best evidence of its merit, the general aud continued approbation of mankind : few books, I believe, have had a more extensive sale. It is remarkable, that it begins very much like the poem of Dante; yet there was no translation of Dante when Bunyan wrote. There is reason to think that he had read Spenser.”
Some of the company expressed a wonder, why the author of so excellent a book as the Whole Duty of Man should conceal himself. JOHNSON. “ There may be different reasons assigned for this, any one of which would be very sufficient. He may have been a clergyman, and may have thought that his religious counsels would have less weight when known to come from a man whose profession was theo. logy. He may have been a man whose practice was not suitable to his principles, so that his character might injure the effect of his book, which he had written in a season of penitence. Or, he may have been a man of rigid self-denial; so that he would have no reward for his pious labours while in this world, but refer it all to a future state.”
He talked of Isaac Walton's Lives, which was one of his most favourite books : Dr. Donne's Life, he said, was the most perfect of them. · He observed, that “it was wonderful that Walton,' who was in a very low situation in life, should have been familiarly received by so many great men, and that at a time when the ranks of society were kept more separate than they are now."
Johnson praised the Spectator, particularly the character of sir Roger de Coverley. He said, “ Sir Roger did not die a violent death, as has generally